Farmers battle pig virus


One pig disease is in it for the long run — and farmers are now finding solutions in order to continue to raise their swine.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which was discovered in 2013, has continued to spread throughout the state. However, recent rainfall has not necessarily contributed to the spread of the disease.

Confined buildings and self-contained sheds that the pigs are located in have helped to prevent rainwater from carrying the disease to other farms. Proper disposal of the pig’s fecal material has also kept the disease from spreading.

The virus could spread to pigs through diarrhea.

“We’ve got record profits and record price for pigs right now,” said Jarrod Bakker, the Pig Purebred Swine Council vice president. “So that’s obviously a good thing for the producers that were not affected by the virus, and even the ones that were are able to capitalize.”

Also, he said, it causes more farms to be extra careful and alert about their biosecurity and health challenges.

A new vaccine was approved in June for use, and it has improved immunity in sows.

Earlier this year, The Daily Iowan reported the virus has a nearly 100 percent mortality rate for piglets because of their low immunity and the high susceptibility rate.

Piglets are in contact with the gastrointestinal viral disease from the time when they’re born, said Gregory Stevenson, a veterinary professor at Iowa State University.

It takes at least 10 days to develop their body’s internal defense system, and this exposure causes them to be infected when they are very young.

Currently, one of the methods of treatment is to give the baby pig an electrolyte solution, not different from giving an athlete Gatorade to help with dehydration.

“The only way to give a suckling pig electrolyte solutions is to wean them so that they are not suckling their mothers,” Stevenson said. “Because they’ll prefer milk to Gatorade, and if you wean a pig under a week of age, they won’t drink enough to save themselves, because they are too young to be weaned.”

Besides the symptomatic care, farmers are also trying to build up the immunity in sows by mixing tissue infected with the disease into their feed, Ron Birkenholz, the communications director at Iowa Pork Producers Association, wrote in an email.

This manner of disease control has been used for many decades, and Birkenholz said it does not pose any risk to food safety.

“The mother’s milk then protects baby pigs from future litters in a safe and natural way,” Birkenholz said.

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